Thriving in the Post-Outbreak Future of Food


Thriving in the Post-Outbreak Future of Food

Building new, digital capabilities to address the needs of the future

How is COVID-19 impacting the future of food? Randy Jagt (Deloitte), Divya Gautam (Unilever) and Eric Parkin (Cargill) talk about how their companies are accelerating digitisation efforts during the COVID-19 crisis. From personalised nutrition and smart kitchens to open source solutions to unite the supply chain: the COVID-19 crisis is fast-tracking creative innovations in the food industry.

COVID-19 response strategies

‘COVID-19 has had a radical impact on the food industry,’ says Randy Jagt, Global Future of Food lead at Deloitte. ‘Transformations that were already taking place are accelerating, and new innovations are being developed at a breath-taking pace.’ He observes that food players are using digitisation in four different ways to respond to the COVID-19 crisis, and gives compelling examples for each of them.

Strategy 1: Jump forward
‘Some food players have created completely new services during COVID-19,’ says Jagt. ‘A leading European discount retailer, for instance, had not previously sold groceries online, but to address the increased demand for online shopping during the pandemic, they partnered with an online peer to offer a 30-minute grocery delivery service.’

Strategy 2: Be responsible
Other food players developed creative approaches to support healthcare companies during the COVID-19 crisis. ‘A great example is a leading Dutch brewer,’ says Jagt. ‘They started collecting beer from clients that had to close down their outlets, and then used it to produce hand sanitiser for healthcare institutions.’

Strategy 3: Transform radically
For certain food players, COVID-19 proved to be the moment for radical transformation. Jagt mentions a global food and beverage company that completely reshaped their innovation pipeline, allocating their resources toward solutions for the COVID-19 situation and investing in digital capabilities to strengthen consumer connections.

Strategy 4: Ride the wave
Finally, some food companies, such as supermarkets, faced a vast increase in demand during COVID-19. Jagt. ‘A leading chain has set a great example with its strong focus on optimising current business, running operations safely and smoothly, and accelerating digital and omnichannel capabilities.’

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Webinar: Innovation & Digitisation in the post-outbreak era

Re-watch the webinar of 28 May 2020 for additional insights from speakers from Unilever, Cargill, and Deloitte. Article continues below the video.

‘A disruptive space to try new business models’

The ‘be responsible’ response strategy resonates with Divya Gautam, Global Data Driven and Precision Marketing Lead Foods at Unilever. ‘Our purpose at Unilever is to make sustainable living commonplace,’ she explains. ‘With the current disruption and changing realities caused by COVID-19, that purpose has become more relevant than ever.’ In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, Gautam has noticed a growing interest in healthy food, food supplements, the use of quality local ingredients and home cooking. Moreover, ‘e-commerce has had an immense boost,’ she says. ‘We’re able to reach new and existing customers every day. This has created a disruptive space to try new business models.’

Personalised meal plan

An interesting example in this regard is the personalised meal plan launched by Unilever subsidiary Knorr. This digital initiative allows consumers to share their preferences and get a personalised meal plan with easy-to-prepare and healthy recipes, a tailored shopping list, and insights into nutrition scores. ‘We aim to help people eat healthily in a way that works for them,’ says Gautam. ‘Even before COVID-19, we already saw that people were becoming more conscious about what they eat. This trend has accelerated because of COVID-19, and we’re excited to help our retail customers respond to it.’

Create new partnerships

‘The effect of COVID-19 has been swift and far-reaching,’ confirms Eric Parkin, Digital Business Leader at Cargill. ‘Our customers are impacted from all angles, in very different ways.’ He explains that Cargill’s retail customers are facing unprecedented logistics and supply chain challenges, whereas their restaurant customers are working on ways to bring people back into their restaurants and need new sanitation and cleaning protocols. ‘At Cargill, we collaborate with our customers to help them become futureproof,’ says Parkin. ‘We create new partnerships, invest in new talent in this space, and we try to come up with solutions for problems in our very complex supply chain.’

Open source digital supply chain solution

For example, one of the major challenges in the food industry is to make the supply chain more transparent and resilient. ‘The industry is still figuring out how to form links between silos at a fundamental level,’ says Parkin. To address this problem, Cargill is working on a secure network that connects the entire food ecosystem, from manufacturers, logistics providers and distributors to retailers and restaurants. Importantly, and in line with Cargill’s purpose, this network is open sourced, a collective effort with no single company owning and monetising the data. ‘By bringing open software and open standardised to the industry, we aim to create transparency and valuable insights,’ he says. Cargill had already started working on this technology before the pandemic hit, and the COVID-19 situation has only added to its importance. ‘If we’d had this technology in place during the early phases of the COVID-19 crisis, we could have solved a lot of problems faster,’ says Parkin (you can learn more at .

Smart kitchen

Meanwhile, Cargill is also connecting with their restaurant customers to drive innovation. ‘We believe that ensuring quality and food safety will continue to be a priority,’ says Parkin. ‘In many restaurants, back-of-house operations haven’t caught up with today’s technology. Now, given the global crisis we’re facing, the need for new technology has never been more acute.’ IoT and automation have a lot to offer restaurant kitchens in terms of ensuring consistent quality and cutting costs, he says. ‘At Cargill, we believe that the next wave of restaurants will be powered by smart kitchens that use IoT monitoring, predictive AI and automation to deliver high-quality products. With our restaurant customers, we’re looking for ways of investing in technology to improve kitchen operations and to give consumers confidence that restaurants have taken adequate food safety measures.’

Accelerate impact

‘The food system is undergoing a huge transformation,’ concludes Jagt. ‘We’re seeing lots of exciting innovations right now that are driving the food transformation – from products to operations, and from supply chain to marketing. ’As food ecosystems rapidly evolve, a wealth of emerging technologies can help organisations build new capabilities to address the needs of the future.’

Create your COVID-19 response strategy

What does your COVID-19 response strategy look like? Are you ready to jump forward, be responsible, transform radically or ride the wave? Feel free to contact us – we would be delighted to help you figure out how to thrive in the food system of the future. You’ll find our details below.

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